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1/23 Homecoming

The early-morning tranzit was on time today (lhumdullah), which meant that I only sat outside my friend's house for 20 minutes to wait for it. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, so I didn't mind a bit. After a beautiful ride (see next post), the tranzit pulled to a stop in front of my house. I don't know why it stopped a block shy of the usual place, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth!

But even before we stopped, I'd been looking ahead to My House, mi casa, my refuge, HOME. I haven't seen it for a full week, and I've missed it. But what to my wondering eyes should appear? Up on my rooftop was not Santa, but a different jolly old soul come to bring me
joy: my host dad.

Of course, I'd left my house locked and padlocked, so I couldn't figure out how he'd gotten up there. And then Elf 1, aka the older of my two little brothers, poked his head over the meter-high wall around my roof. Elf 2, the littler one, was nowhere to be seen...yet.

I hopped off the tranzit, paid the driver (who insisted on taking less money than I wanted to give him - he finally reminded me that I'd gotten on 30 km outside of SouqTown, and therefore had a cheaper ride than I'm used to), gathered my bags, and headed for My Front Door. My host dad called down greetings, which I returned, but when he tried more elaborate conversation, I called back up, "Wait a second, I'll be right up." (Stawil shwee, ad-alligh dghi.)

I lied.

I popped off the padlock without incident, then attempted the Berberville Triple Lutz, aka balancing all my stuff (so it wouldn't sit in the snowdrifts around my door) while I simultaneously tug my steel door towards me and twist my key to the right. It takes both hands, since the door handle (not a knob, a big bar of a handle) is about a foot from the lock. Tug right, twist left, don't drop anything...and nothing happened. The key wouldn't turn.

I tried a few more futile times before looking around for The Source Of The Problem. Turns out that the meters of snow and hurricane winds had conspired to force snow into my doorframe. I'm not really sure how this is possible, but my solid steel door was bent inwards by about three inches at the bottom corner (away from the hinges).

Snowy, icy slush was keeping my door from closing, which meant I couldn't tug-and-align-the-locks like always. So I knelt down, still balancing my bags, and began digging out my door.

Elf #2 materialized at this point, just over my left shoulder. He saw what the problem was, and immediately crouched down to help me out.
10 minutes of scooping and scraping later, with fingers, gloves, keys, and carabiner, there's a stubborn one-inch layer of ice just at the tip of the corner. "Maybe we need hot water, to melt this," I suggested to my little elf. He promptly trotted off to my nearest neighbor, aka our auntie, in search of the kettle-a-boil that every Berberville matron keeps on hand. While waiting for him, I straightened back up and tried the lock, just for grins. No joy.

Then I reached for the old standby, Brute Force And Ignorance: I kicked the door. Sure enough, that dislodged the last of the ice, and suddenly I could turn the lock. Lhumdullah! I called Elf 2 back from his mission, and in we went.

Inside, I noticed a patch of ice on the floor. My ceiling must have been leaking again, and apparently it's been below freezing in my house while I've been gone. No surprise there, given the blizzard. I drew my brother's attention to the ice, and said, "Watch out, this is dangerous." I don't know what I mispronounced, but somehow he interpreted what I'd said as, "Please stand right here." So he did, very obediently, and watched me from the ice patch while I shucked my bags. Then we trotted up the stairs to my roof.

He was ahead of me, so he drew the slidebolt and opened the door. It opens inwards, lhumdullah, or this story would go a very different direction.

Through the door, we could see Aba and Elf #1, hard at work shoveling the snow off my roof, before it could collapse the ceiling of my house. But at the door, between us and them, was a wall of snow. A pristine, vertical, gravity-defying wall of snow. It reached past my hips, making it just about a meter tall. A meter. Of snow.

And there's been two days of sunshine compacting the snow down into snowman-friendly, heavy, wet snow. So it was at least 50% deeper, and maybe twice as deep, when it first fell. Yowza.

After standing there for a minute, just blinking at the apparition, I took matters - and my little bro - into my own hands. I hefted his little 8-year-old frame upwards and plopped him on top of the snow.

He sank only a couple of inches before climbing downwards. I then took a deep breath and followed in his footsteps - literally.

Once I'd conquered that mountain, I was immediately enjoined to drink some tea. Someone - my host mom? my visiting auntie? my host dad himself? - had brought a tea set, complete with teapot, glasses, bread, and olive oil, up onto my roof. They'd brought it up two ladders (the secret of how they'd gotten up there at all - a ladder to my neighbor's roof, then another from that roof to mine) so that they could be, y'know, civilized.

All three guys were hard at work, clearing the snow off my roof. Snow shovels haven't been introduced here, so everyone does the work with balan, spades. The wet snow was holding together so well that all the shovellers had to do was slice downwards once or twice, to delineate some borders, and then lift-and-heft, and a 1-foot cube of snow was removed. While I drank tea and ate bread, I watched their procedure, and once I'd finished, I got Elf #1 to give me his shovel and let me work on my house. He resisted, but I held my ground, so he surrendered his bala. After I'd toted a few shovel-fulls from the rapidly-diminishing snowpack to the edge of the roof, he tried to get it back from me. I was stubborn. "This is my house, so I want to work!" I explained. He went to his dad for advice. His dad was taking a breather also, letting Elf #2 take his shovel while he had a cup of tea. I kept schlepping cubic feet of snow into the alley three stories below (with a very satisfying "WHUMP!", I might add).

Suddenly, Elf #1 reappeared at my elbow, holding out half an orange.
I accepted it, and as soon as I had a hand off the shovel, he snatched it. I looked over at Aba, who had a big grin. Aba speaks a little English, and I thought about asking if he knew the word "conspiracy" - clearly, our dad had given my little bro the orange expressly to get me to stop shoveling - but decided to let it go.

There were two shovels among the four of us. Aba and Elf #1 were definitely doing the lion's share of the work. Elf #2's job was mostly to watch over the front wall and make sure no cars, trucks, bikers, or pedestrians were below in the street, so that Aba could chuck his cubic foot of snow without fear of nailing somebody. Elf #1 and I were throwing our snow out into the alley, where nobody ever walks, which is why we weren't worried about it.

Fast-forward an hour or so. I've shucked all of my outer layers (parka, fleece, sweatshirt) and rolled up my sleeves. I have no idea what the actual temperature is, but under the baking sun, it feels like about 70. It was probably in the high 50s, but who knows? Elf #2, who is lifting each shovel-load over his little shoulders to get it over the wall, has been left with me to do the final touches. We have strict instructions to bring the shovels back to my hos family's house and then stay for lunch. I cheerfully obey.

Fast-forward past a wonderful lunch and chat with the family, including my efforts to figure out their new washing machine. I explained why I'd been away for so long, and got updates on the latest estimate for The Royal Visit: sometime in February.

My favorite exchange:

Ama: Here, Kawtar, have some.
She hands me some Tang-like beverage.
Little Sis: This has so much sugar in it!
Me: Yes, it has tons of sugar.
Ama: If you don't like it, you don't have to drink it. We have water, too.
Me: No, no, I like it a lot! Just like you, I like everything sweet.
Ama: [laughing] It's true, I love cookies and candy!

After leaving, I swing by the post office. I ask the postman if I have any packages. There are a few that were sent from the US a long time ago which I've still never gotten, so I keep checking. "Nope, nothing for you," he answers without looking up. "Hey," he adds, "Where's Jamila?"

"She's traveling," I answer. "Why, does she have a package? I can pick it up for her. And what about Fatima? Does she have any packages?"

"Yes, I have one for each of them. You can sign for them," he adds, pulling out The Package Book. There are two or three of these, depending on how the item was shipped. Why he doesn't log the packages when they arrive I still don't understand, but he always logs them when they're picked up, which means that every care package = hanging out in the post office for 10 or 20 minutes. But they're still TOTALLY worth it, don't get me wrong!!

So he writes for a bit, then hands the package up to me. I look at the label, then do a double-take. "Wait, this is ME!" I exclaim.

He laughs.

"You lied! You're a liar!" I laugh. He keeps chuckling. "Shame on you! You're a bad, bad man!"

Then he reaches for the other package, which I'll take over to my sitemate, Fatima. He spends a few minutes writing in his little book, then hands over the package...which is also for me. We go through it all again.

Turns out I got three packages. Jamila and Fatima had none. This is buposta's sense of humor. :)

I cart everything home, then plop down, home alone at last.

Home, sweet home.

Berberville, sweet Berberville.

It's good to be home. :)


  1. I gotta say, this made me chuckle. Especially the conspiracy element.


  2. Happy to make you smile. :) That's what the blog is for! Thanks for the comment!


Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps